When you hear the word ‘diet’ you likely think of weight loss first and foremost. However, in a broader sense a diet is an eating regime designed to help you solve a problem, whether that problem is an excess of weight, unbalanced hormones, or even joint pain. So think of this anti-inflammatory diet in that sense: not something to help you lose weight (although you might) but rather to help you lose pain.
To better understand how certain types of food help reduce inflammation, it helps to understand the body’s inflammatory mechanism. In the simplest sense, inflammation is triggered when a wound becomes inflamed—there’s local pain, swelling, heat and redness.
Two Kinds of Inflammation
The body’s inflammation response provides the site of injury with the needed immune activity and nourishment to fight off the infection. This is an acute inflammation which is positive because it helps in containing the infection to one locality instead of allowing the germs to escape and colonize other parts of the body. This type of inflammation is very helpful and efficient.
However, if the inflammation exists for a while and serves no purpose, it injures the body which can lead to a multitude of health problems. This is more often known as a chronic, low-grade inflammation and is directly linked to cholesterol clogged arteries, medically known as atherosclerosis. This then paves the way for other illnesses to set in like vascular dementia, which is a common reason for memory loss, other peripheral artery disease, to something deadlier like strokes and heart attacks.
A lot of us may already be familiar with inflammation related health conditions like appendicitis, arthritis, meningitis and more. They all sound the same right? Anything with an ‘ITIS’ in the is an inflammatory related condition. But did you know that there are also other conditions that are triggered in part by inflammation? Yes, recent studies have shown that Alzheimer’s disease, certain cancers and even cardiovascular diseases are triggered partly by inflammation.
We now know that inflammation is part of the body’s healing response and thus, it does not happen on its own volition. It is a defense mechanism to protect the body against an acute invasion of germs, bacteria, virus, and other foreign bodies. But the sad thing is, with a host of modern and constant irritations like highly processed foods, high-calorie and high fat meals, lack of exercise, and smoking—inflammation in the body is triggered in low levels yet lasts for a long while leading to various health problems.
Righting the Omega 6 Imbalance
Inflammation is a silent epidemic that sparks chronic diseases over time. You may feel fine, but in reality your body is already grappling with constant levels of inflammation. And this is where the anti-inflammatory diet can help. The average North American’s diet is too high in omega-6 fatty acids (FAs) which are inflammation-inducers. These omega-6 fatty acids are found everywhere:
- vegetable oils, especially safflower or grapeseed
- mayonnaise and salad dressings
- nuts and seeds
- fast or processed foods
On the other end of the scale, the typical diet is also low in omega-3 fatty acids which are found to be helpful in fighting inflammation. Foods that contain omega 3s include:
- flaxseed oil
- fish oil
- cold water fish such as salmon, sardines and herring
- chia seeds
Because most people eat a lot more foods from the first category than the second, there is an imbalance toward inflammation-inducing foods and when this happens, inflammation can set in.
The premise of the anti-inflammatory diet is to consume foods that are natural and are rich in vitamins, minerals and helpful enzymes. In this section, an in-depth discussion of the different categories of anti-inflammatory food that you can eat is discussed.
All vegetables contain good plant enzymes that can help boost the immunity and reduce inflammation. Eat as much green leafy vegetables to get the antioxidants and vitamins that you need. You can eat white vegetables like cauliflower, garlic and white onions to help boost your immunity. Cruciferous vegetables which pertain to the cabbage family should also be on top of your list.
Eating colored vegetables like carrots and yellow peppers are also great sources of anti-inflammatory antioxidants. There have been reports that some arthritis patients have stated that eating plant based foods in the nightshade family (like most peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant) have increased their joint pain. However, this is not confirmed by scientific studies, so the best thing to do is eliminate food that aggravates joint pain as per experience. And lastly, it has been noted by ongoing studies that vegetables like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale contain sulforaphane which is believed to help in slowing down joint damage produced by osteoarthritis.
Fruits are high in antioxidants which are effective compounds that are valuable in treating and preventing many diseases like cancer, indigestion, joint pain, and other chronic inflammatory conditions. Examples of antioxidants found in fruits include vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids like querticin, catechin, epicatechin and anthocyanidin. Below is a list of fruits that have high anti-inflammatory properties:
- Citrus Fruits: they are rich in Vitamin C that can help soothe joint pain as well as curbs the wear on tear on joints. You can snack on citrus fruits like clementine, oranges, and grapefruits.
- Pineapple: pineapple is rich in Vitamin C and it contains an enzyme called Bromelain which improves the immune system of the body. Many researches have already concluded that vitamin C slows the progression of osteoarthritis and that those whose diet has ample amounts of Vitamin C have a lesser risk of developing knee osteoarthritis than those who don’t.
- Berries: These fruits are rich in flavonoids and Vitamins A and C which help in improving the immune system of the body. Fruits like strawberries, grapes, blueberries, cherries and many others are jam-packed with antioxidants that help improve the overall well-being of a person. As a matter of fact, in a study published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage back in 2013, it showed that eating tart cherries provided relief from joint pain and stiffness in relation to osteoarthritis.
As a general rule, colorful fruits contain a lot of antioxidants. Other fruits that have high anti-inflammatory properties include kiwifruit, citruses, acai berry and avocados. Fruits that are frozen or dried as long as they are not preserved in white sugar are still as effective as fresh fruits so you can also include them in your list of anti-inflammatory food.
Fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. This type of healthy fat can help lower the triglyceride levels of the body. It can also lessen the stiffness of joints and joint pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Fish is also rich in Vitamin D, a bone-building nutrient that is quite valuable for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who are at higher risk for poor bone health. People who are suffering from asthma which is another type of inflammatory disease can also benefit from eating fish oil. Lastly, people who are likely to suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can also benefit from eating fish oil. Great sources of omega-3 include cod, herring, salmon, sardines, halibut, tuna, trout, striped bass, white snapper, and oysters.
Olive oil is the healthiest of all types of oil because it contains monounsaturated fats as well as polyphenols that can help reduce the inflammation particularly on the cardiovascular system. Another kind of oil that is good for the body is avocado oil which has similar compositions as well as properties to that of olive oil. Aside from olive oil, you can also use expeller-pressed organic canola oil and the expeller-pressed versions of safflower and sunflower oil. If you’re an egg-eater, choose those with added omega-3 fatty acid.
Green tea is very rich in flavonoids like tannins which can help reduce the incidence of heart diseases. Green tea also contains a cocktail of antioxidants that curb inflammatory compounds that help ease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms like joint pain.
As a side note, drink your green tea straight up or do not mix it with milk because milk proteins can attach to the tea’s antioxidants thereby lessening its potency.
Aside from green tea, it is also essential for people to drink water which can help speed up the metabolism of the body as well as flush out any harmful by-products of metabolism.
Spices and Herbs
Spices and herbs such as basil, cinnamon, mint, parsley, oregano, rosemary, turmeric, chili pepper, licorice, and celery are known to have high anti-oxidative properties that can help reduce inflammation. In a review published by the International Journal of Molecular Science, it stated that turmeric contains the compound curcumin which is found to be beneficial in managing inflammation related joint pain and problems. Garlic is another spice that contains diallyl disulfide which is beneficial in controlling enzymes that damages the cartilage as seen in patients with arthritis.
Seeds, Legumes and Nuts
Nuts are also healthy sources of oils like Omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts like walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, beans, walnuts, cashews, soy foods, and linseed are great sources of healthy plant fats and protein. When it comes to anti-inflammatory foods, it is preferable to make use of plant based protein than animal protein and an ounce of nuts in the diet daily can greatly improve joint pain.
When it comes to grains, you are urged to eat more whole grains like bulgur wheat or brown rice. Do try to lessen consumption of pasta and when you do, make sure that pasta is al dente. Whole wheat flour products and white flour products essentially have nearly the same glycemic index so try to reduce consumption or eliminate these foods in your diet.
If you want to make sure that you have ample intake of the needed vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants needed to curb inflammation, turning to supplements is also a good idea. Supplements can provide you with the right amounts of anti-inflammatory substances that your body needs without the high caloric intake. A lower calorie diet also means toning down your weight which lessens the pressure and loading on the joints that leads to or aggravates joint pain and arthritic conditions. One such supplement is femMED’s Bone Health. It is also a great supplement for those who are looking to protect themselves from future bone problems like osteoporosis. You can also make use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements if you are not fond of fish in your diet – femMED’s Heart Health is a great source.
So, when it comes to anti-inflammation food, there is a lot of ways to increase your natural anti-inflammatory compounds. And on the other end of the spectrum are foods that can lead to inflammation and they are MSG (monosodium glutamate), milk, omega-6 fatty acids, alcohol, cheeseburgers, white bread, sugar, and trans fats (which are found in highly processed foods and animal fat).
It’s never too early to embrace anti-inflammatory food because like the famous medical old saying goes, “prevention is ALWAYS better than cure!”